Cancer and Chronic illness article
Everything You Need To Know About Dog Cancer
We usually don’t think of cancer as a problem in our dogs. It seems like a complicated illness that only affects humans. In reality, cancer is the biggest killer of dogs over 10 -- one out of two dogs older than 10 will have cancer during their lives.
It’s a nasty thing to think of, but it’s important to have a plan if your dog does get this illness.
Where It Comes From
Cancer in humans and animals appears because of the growth of abnormal cells. Damage to DNA causes them to appear -- bodies start producing damaged cells instead of normal ones. This damaged DNA is inherited genetically, or appears from carcinogens that are consumed or found in the environment.
Just because your dog has a tumor, does not mean he has cancer.
Noncancerous tumors are known as “benign” and do not spread to the rest of the body. They are almost never fatal and are usually not dangerous.
Malignant tumors are cancerous and life threatening. They originate in one part of the body and then begin to kill and replace normal cells. A malignant tumor can potentially affect every part of the body.
(Cancer in Dogs Infographic)
The Most Frequent Dog Cancers
There are over 30 forms of dog cancer, but a few types do by far the most damage.
(Cancer is the leading form of death in all dogs over the age of 2 infographic)
Hemangiosarcoma is a type of cancer that is found in the blood vessel cells. It is an extremely dangerous disease if found anywhere other than the skin. Tumors begin to form in blood vessels throughout the body. As the disease progresses the tumors rupture, creating external and internal bleeding.
Hemangiosarcoma can appear in any tissue in the body that has blood vessels. This means it can start anywhere, even though it usually shows up in the spleen. Hemangiosarcomas spread very quickly and often affect organs and bones.
Lymphoma refers to different types of cancers that come from white blood cells. Known as lymphocytes, the white blood cells normally eliminate diseases and infections and shield the body from outside threats. On occasion, these cells begin to malfunction and produce abnormal cells that lead to malignant tumors.
This is a very common disease. One in five of malignant tumors in dogs are the result of lymphoma.
Lymphoma’s presence in blood cells means it can affect every part of the body. It is most commonly found in the immune system, such as the lymph nodes. It has also been known to be commonly found in the skin, liver, gastrointestinal tract, and spleen.
Different kinds of dog lymphoma behave completely differently. The five biggest types of lymphoma are:
- Multicentric (found in external lymph nodes)
- Mediastinal (found in any organ in the chest)
- Gastrointestinal (found in intestinal tract or stomach)
- Cutaneous (found in the skin)
- Extranodal (affects the bones, chest, eyes, or mouth)
- Multicentric is by far the most common.
It is always hard to tell how alarmed you should be. Always visit the vet if you think your dog might be sick.
Some kinds of lymphoma are extremely lethal and and progress to more dangerous stages very quickly. Other kinds progress slowly and can be managed as chronic, less severe, conditions. Still, if left completely untreated lymphoma can be very dangerous and severely affect the health of your pet.
Mast Cell tumors
Mast cell tumors (MCTs) are the most commonly occurring skin tumors. Approximately 30% of dog tumors are found in the skin, and mast cell tumors are roughly one fifth of those.
MCTs are abnormal mast cells. They are found in large quantities on the skin, but can also be found in the lungs and intestines. Mast cells are essential to your body: they fix broken tissue, fight off infections, and create new blood vessels. Mast cell tumors damage normal mast cells and prevent all of these healing actions from occurring. They also burden the body causing blood pressure and heart rate to rise.
Mast cell tumors can spread to the entire body. They often affect the liver, spleen, and even bone marrow. These tumors are detrimental to the body because of the chemicals they produce, not their direct effects.
MCT’s are difficult to deal with because they vary so much. They can be completely different shapes and sizes, and have different textures and appearances. MCT’s are sometimes dangerously malignant, or non lethal and benign.
(Mast cell tumors infographic)
As in humans, melanoma is a malignant cancer that affects certain pigmented cells. The majority of melanoma is found near the mouth. This cancer is extremely dangerous because it grows very quickly, and can spread to organs such as the liver and lungs.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Squamous Cell Carcinoma is a fast spreading cancer found on dog’s skin. It is dangerous because the tumors are hard to treat and get bigger as time goes on. The carcinomas are extremely malignant, and can be lethal if not diagnosed quickly.
While Squamous Cell carcinoma has different sources, it is usually caused by extensive sun damage.
(Squamous Cell Carcinoma infographic)
Osteosarcoma is a very malignant type of cancer that spreads to many different sections of a dog’s body. It is the cause of almost 9 out of 10 dog bone tumors every year. Because of its extreme effects, amputation is often required to prevent the cancer from spreading. (Osteosarcoma infographic)
Can My Dog Get Cancer?
Every dog can get cancer, but old, big dogs are the most susceptible. Large and giant breeds have the highest chances of being diagnosed. This means your dog is at a higher risk if he is a: Golden Retriever, German Shepherd, Airedales, Saint Bernards, Rottweiler, Great danes, Doberman Pinschers. As your dog approaches middle and old age he also becomes more susceptible. Different types of breeds are also more likely to have different types of cancers. As an example, dogs with thin light coats are more likely to have MCT’s than dogs with thick coats that offer more protection from the sun.
How To Stop Your Dog From Getting Cancer
There is unfortunately no surefire way to keep your dog safe.
A few different things will reduce the chances of your dog becoming diagnosed. The best things you can do won’t surprise you: make sure your dog exercises regularly, has a vitamin filled diet, and avoids carcinogens. It is sometimes even beneficial to have your dog spayed or neutered.
At the end of the day it’s still a game of chance: energetic playful dogs can still have cancer no matter how well you take care of them.
Just remember, the better you treat them now, the stronger and happier they will be if they ever do get the disease.
(Cancer prevention infographic)
Signs Your Dog May Have Cancer
It can be surprisingly hard to tell if your dog has cancer. Your veterinarian should always be the one who actually diagnoses your dogs, but several symptoms can give you clues:
Elbow or Knee Swelling:
The vast majority of dog cancers first pop up as tumors beneath your dog's skin. Many cancers are focused in your dog’s limbs, so checking these areas for swelling regularly will let you know about your dog’s health. Your dog will feel discomfort and pain because of the swelling, so any limping or laziness will let you know.
Balls Beneath Skin:
One of lymphomas first signs is swollen nymph nodes. When you touch them they will feel like thick, hard balls, right beneath your dog’s skin. While they look and feel nasty, they usually don’t cause your dog any pain. The best place to look for these are behind your dog’s knee, and near the shoulders and jaw.
When cancers are present in your dog’s digestive tract, your dog will usually suffer from weight loss, little appetite, very watery diarrhea, and poor digestion.
Cancer in the brain and nervous system usually causes seizures. Brain tumors reduce blood flow and kill off brain cells. Increased pain, random behaviors, and problems seeing are all possible signs of brain cancer.
Tiredness and Inactivity:
A common sign that cancer is developing in your dog is sudden inactivity. If your dog used to want to run and play all the time and now is tired and sleeping all day, you should get him checked out.
Sudden Loss Of Weight and Reduced Appetite:
If your dog stops eating or begins to lose weight, it could be a sign he is developing some form of intestinal cancer. Definitely take him to the vet to see what is up.
- Shortness of Breath
Tumors developing in the lungs often make it difficult to breathe and cause shortness of breath. Your dog will be tired and patning from little day to day activities.
A Few Other Things To Remember:
Canine skin cancers can appear in several different forms. A few of the most common ones are one or several slumps on the skin or near your dog’s mouth. These bumps usually start off as dry, red, flaky patches of skin that your dog is constantly scratching. When in the mouth, you’ll find it on the lips and gums too.
Internal tumors can be extremely difficult to notice. There are no signs of them existing until they are in their late, dangerous stages.
The best thing you can do is to regularly take your dog to the vet. If your pet suffers from shortness of breath, is acting strangely, or faints, there might be something more serious going on.
(Signs of Dog Cancer infographic)
Your Treatment Options
Depending on what cancer your dog has, and how developed it is, your veterinarian will give you the best options to treat your dog. Certain types of cancers can be treated quickly and successfully with some medicine or a quick surgery.
Others can be found too late, and your vet will give you pain treatment options to make sure your dog is happy. Like for humans, chemotherapy is the most popular cancer treatment option. It is balanced with surgery and radiation treatment to make sure your dog is not too affected by the side effects.
The exact treatment depends on what type of cancer your dog has.
For example, lymphoma is usually treated through chemotherapy, but sometimes radiation and surgery are used as well.
More dangerous and fast developing cancers such as osteosarcoma have to be treated quickly and intensively. Chemotherapy is usually combined with amputation.
(Dog Cancer Treatment infographic)
How To Take Care Of Your Dog If He Has Cancer
Cancer usually appears in mature dogs. This becomes a problem because old age creates sensitivities and other health conditions that have to be dealt with at the same time as cancer. Cancer and old age also combine to put pressure on certain organs and highlight certain previous conditions. The best way to take care of your dog’s health is by giving him supplements to take care of current health conditions, and making sure he has a healthy diet. Nutrition becomes especially important when your dog is diagnosed with cancer. Doctors still don’t know exactly what nutrition pets with cancer need, but the consensus is that the food you give your pet should be balanced and nutrient rich.
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